The lessons we can learn from COVID-19

Story Dr Sudheer Kumar Shukla

With people around the world falling sick from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time to rethink and retrofit our actions. This World Environment Day ( June 5), we must learn from the impact of our pandemic, introspect our actions, and correct them before it’s too late.

We have been exploiting natural resources such as our wildlife, forests, rivers and oceans injudiciously, either to satisfy our greed, or to control nature. Nature has responded through continuous signals such as earthquakes, tsunamis, or epidemics from time to time, but we’ve either failed to recognise, or intentionally ignored them.

It cannot go on like this forever. As the so-called most intelligent creatures of nature, we must correct our actions accordingly.

Nature can heal itself

As reported in several studies, the world’s most polluted cities, including Delhi, Seoul, Los Angeles, New York, and Wuhan, recorded a 25 to 65 per cent reduction in air pollution levels during the lockdown. The snow-capped Himalayas can be seen from 200 km away for the first time in 30 years. Around 17 percent of global greenhouse emissions were reduced during the lockdown period.

Two of the world’s most polluted rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna, have seen their waters become pristine in just two months. The water has even become fit for bathing in some areas, according to India’s pollution monitoring body. Beaches around the world have become cleaner. These are the indications that nature can clean itself, we only need to stop interfering with it.

Environmental protection should be the priority

It has also been reported that in areas with high levels of air pollution, the proportion of residents suffering from respiratory illnesses is correspondingly high. Individuals infected with COVID-19 are thus likely to be at a higher risk of severe illness and premature death.

Despite being the most important for our existence, the environment is given the least priority. Instead of the uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources, deforestation, unchecked contamination of our water, air, and soil, it is time to conserve nature and natural resources.

Health is our most important concern

Caught in a rat race of that sees all of us chase prosperity, we have been continuously ignoring the most precious gift given to us by nature: our heath. People with pre-existing critical health conditions are more prone to COVID infection and subsequent death rate is also high.

It is not an exaggeration to say that a majority of critical health conditions are acquired due to bad lifestyle and eating habits. We must now focus more on our health than the pursuit of money.

Sustainable development is the only way forward

Ecosystems are changing dramatically due to climate change caused by unsustainable industrial practices. These changes expand transition zones where species from different habitats interact and thereby elevate the risk of pathogen spill-over.

In other words, it is plausible that climate change could become an indirect factor in contributing to the rise in the frequency of infectious diseases like COVID-19. To protect humankind from a situation like this in the future, we need to protect our environment on the one hand, and ensure the economic wellbeing of our people on the other. Sustainable development is the only way forward

This is also the right time to make sure measures are taken to pave the way for a more sustainable economy. Periods of high unemployment and low-interest rates are the right time for new low-carbon investments and infrastructure, including the kind required to support the transition to clean energy. Let us move from a linear to a circular economy.

The author is an assistant professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at College of Engineering of the National University of Science and Technology in Muscat